The Huddersfield Daily Examiner breached accuracy standards when it published a misleading headline in a court story about a scientist who admitted making explosive substances, the Independent Press Standards Organisation has found.
It ordered the newspaper to publish standalone corrections online and in print as it upheld a complaint by David Taylor that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice with a front-page story headlined: “Boffin, 71, made bombs for hobby”, published on 22 November last year.
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The report described a court hearing in which Taylor had pleaded guilty to two counts of making explosive substances.
The sub-headline stated: “Chemical analyst caught with explosives like those used in 7/7 blast”.
The online article (pictured) was headlined: “Boffin made bombs of the type used in 7/7 attacks – for a hobby”, but was otherwise the same as in the print edition.
The article said Taylor, a retired chemical analyst, had avoided jail after making “an explosive of the type used in the 7/7 bombings”.
The court had heard that he had made two types of explosives “hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), which was used in the 7/7 bombings, and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN)”, and did so “as a ‘hobby'”, the story said.
The prosecutor told the court that the chemicals “are unstable and cause serious damage and harm if they do indeed explode… they are obviously dangerous”.
Taylor had “admitted that he had a keen interest in fireworks and said he was using the chemicals to make fireworks”, and that he had “started to apply for an explosives license through the Home Office but had not completed the application”, the article said.
It included comments by the judge, who said that one of the explosives found had been illegal to obtain for a number of years, and said of Taylor that his “naivety was bordering on somewhat close to recklessness. You need to be a lot more careful in regards to your hobby in the future”.
Taylor said the article was inaccurate, because he had not been accused or convicted of making “bombs” – he had pleaded guilty to a charge of manufacturing HMTD and PETN contrary to section 4 (1) of the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
It was misleading to say he had made “bombs of the type used in [the] 7/7 bombings”, when these attacks involved several kilos of explosives, and he had prepared only 5g of explosive.
Police and the court had accepted that there was no “bomb-making” – his interest was purely in chemistry and firework-making, and the explosives were described in police evidence as “prepared pyrotechnics”, he said.
The newspaper conceded that the term “bomb” was never used in court, but said that the explosives Taylor made were described as major components of a bomb, and were disposed of in a controlled explosion.
It was also accurate to describe the explosives as “bombs” – they were stored in plastic bottles and jars, and a bomb was defined as “a container filled with explosive or incendiary material, designed to explode on impact”.
As HMTD was described in court as “a major component of the 7/7 bombing attacks”, it was not significantly inaccurate to describe Mr Taylor’s explosives as “bombs of the type used in 7/7 attacks”, it said.
But it did not dispute that the explosives were intended for use in fireworks, and offered, as a gesture of goodwill, to amend the online headline to read: “Boffin made fireworks using chemicals found in 7/7 bombings – for a hobby”.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee said: “While it is important that publications are allowed some latitude in how they characterise actions and objects, to refer to the materials produced as ‘bombs’ or ‘bombs of the type used in 7/7 attacks’ in the articles’ headlines went beyond this as the committee did not accept that the word would be understood by readers in the manner asserted by the newspaper.
“The use of the words ‘for a hobby’ in both headlines indicated that the explosives had not been created for ‘terrorist’ purposes, but the use of the word ‘bombs’ had mischaracterised the complainant’s purpose in creating the explosives; the article text did not contain any suggestion that the explosives had been created for destructive purposes, as the word ‘bombs’ implied.”
The print sub-headline accurately stated that Taylor was found to have made “explosives” – but the newspaper had not taken care to ensure that the headline claim that he had made “bombs” was supported by the text, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
Although it had offered to amend the online article headline, no standalone correction was offered either in print or online.
The committee added: “The articles were reports of court proceedings and, because the headlines gave the significantly misleading impression that the complainant had made ‘bombs’, when this was not heard in court, this represented a breach of Clause 1 (ii), and a correction was required.”
Ipso ordered the newspaper to publish corrections, specifying their wordings and locations.
Although the original story had appeared on the front page, the inaccuracy lay in one word of the headlines – the word “bombs”, the committee said.
In these circumstances, a front page correction was not appropriate: the correction should appear on page two, in the publication’s established corrections and clarification column.